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On Feb. 11, something happened in Michigan’s third-largest city that many would consider remarkable. Despite that fact, it went largely unnoticed. The Warren City Council adopted a Pride Month resolution, with six out of seven councilmembers voting in favor. Among those who did notice was longtime Warren resident Val Bralt.
Bralt, a transgender woman who moved to Warren in 1964 and who worked at the GM Tech Center for 36 years, attended the meeting after a friend, Sheila Shorkey, learned the resolution would be on the agenda and shared the news. Shorkey had also been in communication with the councilmembers after learning of it herself.
Council rules were suspended to enable Bralt to say her “two bits,” as she called it, before a sparse audience. And while she criticized Warren’s dismal showing on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, she said this was “a good first step.”
“I was surprised and disappointed,” Bralt said, when asked what she thought about hearing that Warren would recognize June 2020 as Pride Month.
“I was surprised that they were actually considering something like this; I was disappointed that it was necessary,” she said. “I spend a lot of time out in Ferndale. People want to be there. Warren, I don’t know. But I don’t want to dismiss it.”
In her own experience, Bralt said she hasn’t observed any homophobia, “But I’m fortunate.”
“People tell me that I pass well,” she said. “We have neighbors that understand and accept.”
Behind the Scenes
The heavy lifting behind the resolution came from the Macomb County Pride initiative. Beyond their first-ever Pride celebration in Macomb County on June 27, committee member Alysa Diebolt reached out to all the communities in the county about adopting resolutions to celebrate the month. Diebolt is married to Eastpointe Councilmember Cardi DeMonaco, whose own city council passed a Pride Month resolution last year.
“That component of getting the government involved was really important to me, because I work in politics,” Diebolt said. “We used Eastpointe’s resolution as the model text, and I formatted so they could just drag and drop their city or township name into those spots. I emailed it to every single elected official in all of Macomb County including the board of commissioners and just kind of waited for responses. And Warren was one of the very first … that replied. And we were wildly excited.”
Allies on the Council
Warren did take the lead on this — and very intentionally, according to City Council President Patrick Green, a former Democratic State Representative.
“When Alysa reached out to us … we said we want to do it right now. We want to start the trend now so that other communities — being the largest community in the county — can see that and look at the language that we used and make sure that it fits with their community and adopt it as well. I reached out to a few of the councilmembers and asked them what they thought about it, and they agreed and said, ‘Absolutely, let’s do it right away.’
“By doing the resolution, we want to bring a consciousness to talking about making sure that we’re open and nondiscriminatory to everyone — to just start a conversation.” Green said.
He added that this is not intended to diminish the resolution, but he wants to point out the city strives not to be discriminatory toward anyone.
“We understand it’s a very important step, especially for Macomb County,” he said.
When asked about the mayor’s absence at the meeting, Green explained that Warren has a “strong mayor” form of government. That means the Warren City Council, with its own president and elected officials, acts as a separate legislative body from the office of Mayor Fouts.
“Resolutions can come from either the mayor’s office or the council directly,” Green said. “Council does one as an independent body; the mayor’s office can do one as well. That may be a question that you want to call him on.”
Lost the Battle, Won the War
Connor Berdy made an unsuccessful run for Warren City Council last year. He believes that it was his court case challenging Warren’s term limit laws that resulted in the high turnover on the council last year, which ushered in a more progressive council.
“It would never have passed the old council,” Berdy asserted.
That court case, which ended in a unanimous decision by the Michigan Supreme Court, “upended city politics,” according to the Macomb Daily.
“The fact that the actions I took during my race led to this more open-minded, younger council being elected which led, subsequently, to this resolution being passed — it’s awesome.”
Though the resolution may be a symbolic gesture, Berdy believes such symbols have power.
“Growing up in the city of Warren and not having anywhere to look to or any representation of LGBT or queerness anywhere in the city, it puts you in that isolating position,” Berdy said. “And at least now, to know there’s a presence there, there’s a conscious effort being made by city leaders to become more inclusive, to cast a wider net for people who live in the city, it’s a step in the right direction. I didn’t win my election, but at the end of the day, I think I’ve won [by] pushing progressive change in my community, and that’s the most important thing to me: actually making a difference.”
Ask and Ye Shall Recieve
Some may wonder what took Warren or any number of cities so long to recognize the LGBTQ community in this way. Diebolt suggested that sometimes all it takes is asking.
“Communities are very willing to recognize and celebrate anything, really,” she explained. “But all of the councilmembers and commission members — these are part-time positions. And they are focusing on a lot of different stuff.”
So far, the Macomb County Pride initiative has buy-in from Clinton Township, Utica, Mount Clemens, Chesterfield Township and Eastpointe — reaffirming their previous resolution — and the Macomb County Board of Commissioners for resolutions this year.
In Warren, it’s not just the city council that wants to recognize the LGBTQ community in June. Staff are in on it, too, and viewers of council meetings can expect something special for the two meetings during Pride Month: rainbow lighting behind the councilmembers’ seating area.
“It was actually kind of nice, the communications department, who’s there at all of our meetings doing the video and the audio, came up to us,” Green said. “Behind our seats are some colored lights that go on sheers behind us, and he’s going to change the lights so it reflects that month.”
Bralt said she’s eager to support Macomb County Pride and plans to attend the inaugural event. She then reflected on the effort it takes to make change in Warren or anywhere.
“The end of life is coming at me like a train,” she said. “God’s been very good to me. I’ve been very healthy, everything has been wonderful, and I just have this premonition that I may get run over by a bus tomorrow. It takes a lot of energy to move something with that amount of inertia.
“I don’t have that energy. And unless a lot of excited people come on board, there won’t be enough energy,” she said. “And you have to put energy in to get it started and you have to put energy in to keep it going until it is self-sustaining. This takes a long time and a lot of work by a lot of people.”
Finally, Bralt offered words of hope for Warren’s future.
“We just broke ground,” she said. “We have to hire a contractor. I’m taking the long view of what it will take to make it happen.”